Fennesz – Szampler

Where is the best place to listen to Szampler, a collection of samples that Christian Fennesz put together between 1990 and 2000? 

I chose three settings.

The first was while I was making curry for dinner. After the first, chiming sound had dropped away into silence I thought my WiFi was playing up or I’d turned the volume down by mistake; a mistake I had indeed made when I was eventually confronted by a barrage of angry, metallic noise that near enough turned my remaining hair pure white.

The second was while I was in the supermarket early one Saturday morning, where it felt strangely anarchic to be listening to this while picking out vegetables and tomato purée.

The third time was while I was walking in the morning sunshine to our local high street, dodging joggers, dogwalkers and gleeful kids on bikes with stabilisers. 

In each setting, Szampler turned out to be a strangely fitting listen. All three places and actions had a certain familiarity – a recipe I’ve followed countless times before; a supermarket whose aisles I know like the back of my hand, with a shopping list that looks more or less the same as it did the week before; a walk that I’ve done so many times that I’m fairly certain you can see the residue of my slowly-dying Converse imprinted on the pavement if you look closely enough. 

In contrast, Fennesz’s hour-long sound library is wholly unfamiliar and unpredictable. It’s nigh-on impossible to guess what might come next. His sounds veer from angular noise, to amp static, to quiet not-quite-nothingness, to fierce distortion, to dub rhythms and 90s R&B beats, to preset patterns, to found sounds, to post-rock guitar passages, to plaintive piano, to snatches of overheard conversation, to outlines of melodies, to drones, to squealing electronic tones to… well, you get the gist.

There is no pattern here, yet it is not wholly random. The sounds are united by a sense of purpose – the planned use in compositions or live performance – and they’re not just sounds accumulated with a covetous desire to store and retain, yet hearing them back-to-back without context gives the collection a certain playfulness. You find yourself on the edge of your proverbial seat wondering what joys your ears might be subjected to next. In the wrong frame of mind, perhaps this would irritate; in the right frame of mind, it has a strangely soothing effect akin to equanimity – you can’t anticipate where he might go next, so why even try? 

Szampler was originally released as a limited edition (and much sought-after) cassette by The Tapeworm in 2010. The reissue as a digital file forms part of an initiative called The Digital Archive Of Tapeworm (or DAT), which label co-founder Philip Marshall hinted at when Further. interviewed him in 2019. Fennesz’s release joins a growing number of archive gems from The Pathfinders, Daniel Menche, Philip Jeck, Oren Ambarchi and others, operating in parallel to the label’s ongoing pursuit of cassette nirvana. 

Szampler by Fennesz was reissued by The Tapeworm / DAT on April 9 2021. 

Words: Mat Smith. 

(c) 2021 Further. 

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